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Rosie O’Donnell Brings Celebrity to S.F. Weddings

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Times Staff Writer

With crowds, paparazzi and a hastily convened appearance by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, this city’s “Winter of Love” got its first shot of celebrity wattage Thursday as former talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and her longtime partner, Kelli Carpenter, joined the cavalcade of same-sex marriages at City Hall.

“I want to thank the city of San Francisco for this amazing stance the mayor has taken for all the people here, not just us but all the thousands and thousands of loving, law-abiding couples,” O’Donnell said, after the two emerged to thunderous applause after the civil ceremony in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office.

City Treasurer Susan Leal, one of the city’s higher-profile lesbian politicians, officiated at the union, one of more than 3,300 since Feb. 12, when the city began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Newsom was not in the building, having committed to attend the opening of a housing project for seniors in the Tenderloin district, said spokesman Peter Ragone.

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Leal said the ceremony had been witnessed by a member of the mayor’s staff and a friend of the couple, who had announced their intention on ABC’s “Good Morning America” before catching a 5 a.m. flight from New York.

As the two women, who have been partners for six years and have four children, solemnly vowed to remain faithful “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer,” the Gay Men’s Chorus -- called to the scene after its director heard O’Donnell was coming -- stood at the base of the City Hall steps, waving flowers and singing “Chapel of Love” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“It was very moving,” Leal said. “Halfway through, we all had tears in our eyes.”

Though several legal challenges are pending against San Francisco -- California law prohibits same-sex marriage -- the civil ceremony was one of about 60 scheduled Thursday, and by no means the only one to be applauded. Cheers, in fact, erupted every 10 minutes or so from the marble alcoves and balconies of the building as same-sex couples from as far away as Montana arrived in tuxedos, veils and even cowboy hats to be wed.

O’Donnell, who wore her hair long and dressed in a powder blue coat over black pants, said that she and Carpenter (a former marketing director for Nickelodeon who wore gray pants and a matching jacket) had decided to fly to San Francisco and take out a license after hearing President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment banning civil marriages for same-sex couples. She called his statement “the most vile and hateful words ever spoken by a sitting president.”

“All the way, one thought ran through my mind on the plane,” O’Donnell told the crowd of several hundred onlookers that gathered around the City Hall rotunda. “With liberty and justice for all.” As she held a bouquet of some of the flowers that, for weeks now, have been sent from around the nation to City Hall in tribute to the same-sex couples, O’Donnell and Carpenter then kissed.

Though the city resumed this week its usual practice of requiring appointments for civil marriages -- and had appointments booked into next month as of Thursday morning -- O’Donnell and Carpenter called early enough to obtain a 1 p.m. slot on the schedule, city officials said. “They called, just like everyone else,” Ragone said.

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The ease with which they had obtained a slot, however, was the subject of much talk radio chatter. At least one couple who had tried and failed to squeeze onto Thursday’s schedule said that, even if O’Donnell had received celebrity treatment, it wouldn’t have mattered to them.

“They’ve fit a lot of people in who were from out of town, or who couldn’t stay,” said Bob Holloway, a 45-year-old national park ranger from San Francisco who had been told he would have to wait until next month to marry his partner. “But I don’t mind. Rosie O’Donnell brings so much attention to the cause.”

The newlyweds left immediately after the ceremony, saying they had to get home because today is parents’ day at their children’s school.

“With four kids under the age of 8,” O’Donnell quipped, “there will be no honeymoon.”

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